Having recently praised France’s rejection of the politics of division, Joseph Harker may, at first glance, appear an upstanding member of the thoughtful commentariat. Not so.
In a quite astounding piece, Harker, the Guardian’s deputy opinion editor, has written, in support of freshly elected Labour MP Laura Pidcock’s similar statement, of his refusal to count Tories amongst his friends. Not content with his superlatively broad brush strokes about Conservatives, he goes on to describe how his cordon sanitaire excludes Liberal Democrats and New Labour types as well. He does, however, explicate the one exception to his rule: graciously, Harker finds it within himself to feel a modicum more respect for Conservative voters who aren’t white. They, he claims, are possessed of a noble attachment to self-reliance that sees them reject offers of help from white liberals.
For a journalist who has previously tweeted to accuse Theresa May of “divide-and-rule” tactics, this is a quite astonishingly hypocritical stratification of our society. Not only is the British public no longer a single people with a common desire to improve their society yet a diverse range of views on how to achieve this, but Harker also exempts some of those he would otherwise decry on the grounds of their ethnicity.
Harker is not alone, though. Despite the left’s immediate and excoriating denunciation of any whom its elites accuse of sowing division or disunity, it has become increasingly accustomed to doing precisely this itself. University students now parade around campuses on both sides of the Atlantic, demanding differing rights for those of differing gender, ethnic group and sexuality, while the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower catastrophe saw Labour MP Emma Dent Coad repeatedly refute the ability of the assigned judge to oversee the imminent inquest, and deliver findings that represented the truth, the whole truth and nothing but. Her objection to Martin Moore-Bick’s appointment was not on the grounds of his experience (by any account, he is eminently qualified for the task), but that he is a white male.
In the wake of a tragedy such as that which befell Grenfell Tower in June, it is understandable that its surviving victims and their families might not trust due process to leave no stone unturned in its quest for justice. After all, it was due process (or at least the appearance thereof) that led to the home of 500 people being clad in highly flammable material. It is the responsibility of politicians, though, to assuage such fears, and Dent Coad’s conduct was grossly irresponsible: little seems more likely to prejudice the outcome of the inquiry and divert its course from a tireless pursuit of naked truth than plunging it into a race-row before it has first convened.
This is, however, the politics of the new left, which now never fails to relegate positive outcomes behind its need to lather itself in the oleaginous self-affirmation of claiming itself an uncompromising moral authority. It is, in no small part, caused by the transition of left-wing politics from a cause devoted to securing a more prosperous existence for society’s most disadvantaged, to a middle-class hobby for those perpetually burdened with more spare time than they know how to use.
Harker’s and Dent Coad’s actions might appear wildly unrelated, but they share an origin in the left’s capitulation to a politics not of substance, but of identity – and, crucially, a stamp of moral rectitude dependent on an affected solidarity with people to whom their exclusionary behaviours are entirely alien. These are the ‘victims’ of Tory policy that Harker et al take offence on behalf of: those who must struggle each day to juggle increasingly impossible demands on their time and money, scraping around with evermore ingenuity to stretch their income to its next replenishment. Oddly, however, my experiences of those who with each day that passes live through such struggles instruct me that they, like any other, take great heart and comfort from any friendship, no matter the politics or race of the individual who extends it. It appears likely, therefore, that Harker’s politics of division stem not from a yearning to improve the lives of the people he apparently feels such dismay for the plight of, but to indulge in an intellectually titillating division of society into the righteous and the wrongful, with terrifying (yet inaccurate) precision. He has his goodies, he knows the baddies, and like an eight-year-old playing kiss-chase in the playground, it makes it more fun to enact repulsion by the other side.
Fortunately, most of society is yet to give in to this urge. Were Harker to extricate himself from his self-enforcing group of yes-man comrades, he would discover that those whose suffering he appropriated recognise the world is not as black-and-white as his grandiose dichotomies suggest. I will not pretend to be on the edge of any financial precipice myself, but even I feel that my life is greatly enriched by having friends who agree and disagree with my politics in equally vehement measure. Life is too short to toy with the politics of division – and if the Guardian’s deputy opinion editor could grasp this, he might just be onto a winner.
As you may imagine, however, the largesse of Joseph Harker’s social circle is not yours truly’s primary concern. What is alarming, however, what requires condemnation in the strongest possible terms, is his blase promulgation of the precise division which he claims bedevils Tory politics. In an age of disturbing polarisation, with growing extremes on both ends of the spectrum encircling an embattled centre that looks increasingly ill-equipped to hold, we must fight every day to preserve the mild-mannered decency, tolerance and civility that has come to characterise our island nation. We are the nation that agreed to disagree, this is to our credit – and we must never, ever lose sight of that.